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December 29th, 2010

The world’s richest blacks aren’t in the U.S.

William Reed

Black Americans perceive the occupational roles and personality characteristics portrayed in American media about Africa as real or true to life. Operating under gross delusions, Black Americans think of themselves as "the world’s richest Blacks". But, if African Americans took at look at Black Africans they’d see who’s moving ahead in building wealth.

South Africa is a nation of 50 million people. Seventy-five percent of the population is of Black African ancestry. Black South Africans are literally sitting on a gold mine. South Africa is a country with an abundant supply of resources and well-developed financial, legal, communications, energy, and transport sectors. South Africa is ranked 25th in the world in terms of GDP. The country’s advanced development is significantly localized around four areas: Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Durban, and Pretoria/Johannesburg. Beyond these four economic centers, development is marginal, and consequently the vast majority of South Africans are poor. Unemployment is extremely high and South Africa is ranked in the top 10 countries in the world for income inequality.

Many Black South Africans are a world away from the images of starving Africans that routinely fill western television screens. In ways unimaginable to their grandparents or Black Americans, second and third generation Black middle-class professionals exists across industrial sectors from Cape Town to Johannesburg. Just like in America, a racial wealth and income disparity exists. The average White household still earns more than six times the average Black household, and is ten times wealthier. But, since the demise of apartheid, there has been measurable Black economic growth. Affirmative action policies, called Black Economic Empowerment (BEE), have spawned Black economic wealth and a middle class. Black professionals and entrepreneurs own shopping centers that are replacing the corner groceries and market stalls that used to cater to township residents. East of Johannesburg, the multi-million, Black-owned Lesedi City mall houses 53 black businesses, including a supermarket, video library, disco and off-track betting parlor, and a local witch doctor and herbalist.

Some have jobs, but greater numbers of Black South Africans, more so than African Americans, are accumulating wealth. The world’s richest Black man is a South African. Gold magnate Patrice Motsepe is worth $2.3 billion. The biggest shareholder of the world’s fifth-largest gold mining company, Motsepe controls 19.8 percent of Harmony Gold Mining Company Limited and owns the Mamelodi Sundowns, one of South Africa’s most successful soccer teams. Like many wealthy South Africans, Motsepe is a 45 year-old second-generation businessman. Patrice’s dad, ABC Motsepe was one of the country’s most successful businessmen. Former union executive and African National Congress (ANC) leader, Cyril Ramaphosa is a 55-year-old lawyer that left politics to became a millionaire. Mosima Gabriel Sexwale, commonly known as Tokyo Sexwale, is a 57-year-old South African millionaire businessman and former politician, anti-apartheid activist, and political prisoner. He is a director of companies such as Absa Group Limited, Allied Electronics Corporation Ltd. (more commonly known as Altech) and Gold Fields Ltd.

Those with patronizing attitudes about Africa would find it hard to believe a Zimbabwean "left politics because I realized that there was no money in that field". A former MP, Philip Chiyangwa has a mansion with 15 carports, 18 bedrooms, 4 balconies, 9 servant quarters, 2 swimming pools and 3 heliports. Chiyangwa’s wealth is estimated at around US$30 million. He owns a 10-seater private jet, hotels and several other small businesses.

Too much of Black Americans’ world view is based on politics, mainstream media portrayals, and who and what we are suppose to "like" or not. And the myths between us and Africans runs both ways. Isn’t it time to pull down the veil between us and plot our ways forward? If African-Americans joined into increased interactions with people in Africa, particularly in areas of business and investments, it could benefit us all. Ironically, the South Africans would be ideal mentors for us.

5 / 5 (3 Votes)

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Reader Response
  • Shama
  • December 29th, 2010 I lived in South Africa for many years. I know Tokyo and Cyril. They are exceptions to the rule. There are more than 40 million others who are in the exact same impoverished condition as we Africans Americans are! I do agree though that joining in business interactions with people in Africa would be a monumental exchange that could change the course of the world.

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